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Tarrytown School District Rating Concerns Parents

SLEEPY HOLLOW, N.Y. – Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow parents aren't happy that state test results indicate the Union Free School District of the Tarrytowns will likely receive the “school district in need of improvement” designation for the second year in a row.

“We feel that each of our three children has received an exceptional education,” Jill Schurtz said, noting her family had been skeptical they could find good schools other than New York City private schools. “Objectively speaking, if we were to make this decision again and we were looking at a district in need of improvement versus neighboring towns that do not share that designation, fair or not, we would not move here.”

In addition to the DINI designation, it's likely that Sleepy Hollow Middle School will receive a “school in need of improvement” designation, Superintendent Howard Smith said during Thursday's Board of Education meeting. Although the state has yet to release official designations, Smith said the district did not expect to overcome the DINI label.

Officials noted that the district had seen a marked increase in growth from its student population, which far outstripped county and state growth levels. Smith noted that in overall areas of accountability that have been established, “we have and continue to exceed the targets that have been set on an annual basis.”

Officials cited a variety of reasons why the school district had not achieved good standing, although Smith was quick to point out that the school district was not trying to make excuses.

One of the big factors behind the second-year DINI designation is the No Child Left Behind Act, which governs the state assessment determinations. Smith and school principals said NCLB arbitrarily raises the bar each year based on politics, not educational research.

This means that students who have disabilities or have limited English proficiency are expected to grow at the same rate as students without disabilities and who are native speakers. That isn't realistic, Smith said.

Test data showed that district's designation hinged on a handful of students in subgroups, such as limited English proficiency, who were counted more than once because they are classified in more than one subgroup. Officials said the school district had been close to being in good standing: 42 students in English and 32 in math needed to score one level higher than they did.

Fluctuations in the make-up of assessments and test scoring in recent years was also an issue, officials said.

The real issue, Smith said, is not growth, it's how fast the students are growing. The structure of NCLB makes it's statistically impossible for the district to climb out of the DINI designation, he said, because it expects all subgroups to be at 100 percent by 2014.

“We have to ultimately still be sensitive to what's appropriate to how far you push a kid when he's growing,” Smith said, later noting that students who aren't meeting standards now are “pretty much doing nothing else but either sitting in class or getting extra help.”

Parents agreed that a well-rounded education was needed and that there were some flaws in how the rating system was determined, but they also noted that a bad school rating has consequences. Some parents said they also felt the school district was settling instead of aiming high.

Some parents also asked that school board reach out more to the Hispanic community and get them involved.

“This is not a good thing,” Ken Torcine said, noting that the issue involved students, parents and homeowners in the village. Torcine asked that the district include parents in the future.

“People want to be involved,” he said. “This is a biggie.”

“We don't understand the issue,” Schurtz said. “We don't understand the solution. But we want to, so please include us directly.”

Trustees and school officials said they would look at ways for parents to become more involved.

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